EJ Manuel, the Bills' newly minted first-round draft choice, has an intimate family connection to the Super Bowl teams. Manuel is the godson of Bruce Smith, the Bills' Hall of Fame defensive end.
Smith is a childhood friend of Erik Manuel, EJ's father. They grew up together in Norfolk, Va., and have remained close through the years. In fact, Bruce Smith is EJ's godfather. So it was a happy coincidence when the Bills selected Manuel with the 16th pick of the first round on Thursday night.
"We grew up together," Erik Manuel said of Bruce. "We're lifetime friends, good friends. I can't describe it. It's a blessing, that's all I can say. I'm just glad he's at this level. I'm just happy. The Buffalo Bills, man! I've always been a Bills fan since Bruce was here and Jim (Kelly) was playing. So it's a good thing."
Erik, who was in town Friday for EJ's live introduction to the Buffalo media, said it would be helpful to have his son play in the same city where his godfather terrorized opposing quarterbacks for 15 seasons. "Right. Of course," he said. "But I think EJ's foundation is enough. You always have that to lean on. So I think he'll do well. EJ is solid, a solid guy."
Erik Manuel is a military man. He said it wasn't as if his children grew up in a overbearing, strict environment. "No, no," he said. "You can have boundaries with liberty. So you have fun, but there's always boundaries."
The Manuels have an extremely close relationship, more like best friends. Erik Manuel was a fixture at his son's games at Florida State. He would often be seen in the back of the interview room after games, the ubiquitous proud father. He said it was an emotional scene at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, when EJ went 16th to the Bills. It was especially so because his wife, Jackie, was there. Jackie is recovering from breast cancer surgery.
"I cried," Erik said without hesitation when asked to describe his emotions at the draft. "Yeah. I'm probably going to cry some more later."